Whisky Reviews: Nikka Japanese Whiskies Finished In Apple Brandy Barrels

Editor’s Note: These whiskies were provided to us as review samples by Nikka/Hotaling. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy links in this article our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.

Pretty sure it was a Wednesday a ways back, probably around noon, where I met up with co-workers and friends for a class about the background and processes involving Japanese whiskies. I had a solid base knowledge, but had no idea how much went into the production of such. It was such an informative education and tasting.

I know the blending process is nothing new. It’s been an art for a long time and continues to be. The Japanese were inspired by the Scottish traditions of whisky production and sought to replicate the process domestically. The two key cultural figures in this case were Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru.

Taketsuru was a chemist and had made the trip to Scotland to learn about the philosophies and practices, with the intention of bringing them back to Japan. In the 1920’s he returned with such knowledge, inspired by the whisky.

Torii, on the other hand, was a pharmaceutical importer, whom had attempted to bring international whiskeys to Japan. Torii had the dream of making a product specifically for the Japanese palate and market, as there had previously been hits and misses with his imports.

The two meet and Torii hires Taketsuru to begin production of a Japanese whisky. We fast-forward to the present and now there are several distilleries operating in Japan. Now, in relation to this and also to mark the 100th anniversary of Taketsuru and his Scottish wife Jessie Roberts “Rita” Cowan, two apple brandy barrel finished whiskies are being released from parent company Nikka. For the sake of brevity, we will highlight the two distilleries represented in this round up.

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The Yoichi Single Malt Whisky Finished in Apple Brandy Barrels is aged in various casks including new American oak and sherry casks, before getting the apple brandy cask finishing. It is said of this expression that “the sweetness from the apples highlight the pear and gentle peaty notes.”

By comparison, the Miyagikyo Single Malt Whisky Finished in Apple Brandy Barrels is “aged in mainly new American oak, ex-Bourbon barrels, and sherry casks, with the sherry casks providing a dominant flavor component, the whisky contains notes of apple honey, sage, and vanilla,” before being transferred to the apple brandy casks.

Nikka Whiskies Finished In Apple Brandy Barrels

Nikka Whiskies Finished In Apple Brandy Barrels (image via Hotaling & Co.)

Tasting Notes: Nikka Single Malt Miyagikyo Distillery with Apple Brandy Barrel Finish

Vital Stats: 94 proof, 47% ABV. Aged over six months in apple brandy barrels. ~ $253 per 750ml bottle.

Appearance: Definitely a lighter whisky, reminding me of a Jasmine green tea. Pale yellow with slow, slim legs presenting in the glass.

Nose: Very much on the floral side with orchard fruit notes. A hint of pepper for sure with light honeysuckle.

Palate: From the get-go, discovered green apple and spice. As a lighter bodied whisky, the finish lasted longer than expected. In the mid-palate there was a mild peat presence, and some honey mixed in with the end. With the addition of a couple drops of water, there were certainly accents of the apple brandy finish.

 Score: 3.5/5

Whiskey Review: Nikka Single Malt Yoichi Distillery with Apple Brandy Barrel Finish

Vital Stats: 94 proof, 47% ABV. Aged over six months in apple brandy barrels. ~ $253 per 750ml bottle.

Appearance: I could scarcely notice a difference between the two whiskys. With the use of a white card and extra light, could see that the Yoichi was ever so slightly darker than it’s companion. In the glass, legs were longer and more prevalent.

Nose: A bit more heat for sure. The fruit elements were more straightforward, but accompanied by the floral presence as well.

Palate: In regards to fruit, there’s a sense of fresh pair mixed with honeydew. As with the previous selection, there was a mild peat element, but in this case, even more subtle. Very simple whisky with a light body and short finish.

Score: 3.5/5

Final Thoughts: These two were a really tough comparison. Both in appearance and flavor profiles, they were remarkably similar.

That said, the primary difference was that the Miyagikyo was more complex and a bit more peat forward and the Yoichi was more simple, but with bigger fruit notes. At the end of the day, they’re both solid, but it depends on which one of them appeals most to your palate.

In regards to the apple brandy barrel finishes, I had hopes for more fruit influence, but then again you never know. It usually depends on how long the whisky goes through the secondary aging as well as the source of the barrels themselves.

I found both of these selections to be interesting, and that they had probably more fruit elements than before going into the brandy barrels. It would have certainly been a fun experience to be able to taste the before and after products. Perhaps another time!


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